The Weekend Takeaway
Which sport epitomizes the red-blooded American best: football or baseball? Do we see more of ourselves in Tom Brady’s perfect touchdown spiral or the graceful swing of a Mike Trout home run?
While that debate may never fully be resolved, the Angels managed to give us a taste of both sports on Saturday evening after they defeated the Red Sox 21-2. (In case you’re wondering, yes, that total is more than the average number of points per game the soon-to-be Los Angeles Rams scored in the most recent NFL season.)
C.J. Cron decorated the Angels’ efforts with six hits, five RBI, and two home runs, joining Chone Figgins and Garrett Anderson as the third franchise player to rack up six hits in a game. No Angel has had as many hits in a game since 2007, and never in one that saw more than 10 runs on the board.
Cron was matched in nearly every category by Carlos Perez, who had a five-hit, six-RBI night of his own, but the 21-run blowout was a group effort—aided, to no small degree, by the implosion of Boston’s bullpen.
In the seventh inning, facing an eight-run deficit from the combined efforts of Clay Buchholz and Heath Hembree, left-hander Robbie Ross Jr. and newly-minted major leaguer Pat Light tag-teamed for a disastrous outing. The Angels exploited every pitch Ross served up, from fastballs angling inside the zone to sliders outside and ankle-high curveballs:
Light, on the other hand, tried for a more straightforward approach and threw all of his fastballs through the heart of the strike zone:
By the end of the seventh, the Angels had plated another 11 runs and jacked up the score 20-2. Light returned in the eighth and found his footing in the strike zone, but still came one Xander Bogaerts fielding error shy of a scoreless inning. With the end of the weekend came the end of the Angels’ brief fling with the history books: the Red Sox dominated the series finale, 10-5, and tipped the series in their favor.
Quick Hits from the Weekend
Like Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, and the 2015 Golden State Warriors, the Cleveland Indians proved that they, too, were far from invincible when they lost their 14-game win streak against the Blue Jays on Saturday.
Unlike the Red Sox’ collapse, the Indians didn’t lose on a chain reaction of bad decisions (that tack was reserved for their 17-1 loss during Sunday’s series finale), but found their fortunes reversed on a single, costly call at the plate. With the score knotted 6-6 in the eighth, Josh Donaldson lined a single off of right-hander Tommy Hunter. Ezequiel Carrera sprinted toward home and slid around the bag to score, while a perfect throw from Tyler Naquin appeared to catch him a moment before he touched the base.
Upon further review, home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn retracted the initial call and awarded the Blue Jays the winning run. Michael Saunders tacked on a pair of insurance runs with a two-run double; the Indians, meanwhile, choked in the ninth inning and stranded their only remaining baserunner.
Although the loss didn’t threaten the Indians’ spot atop the American League Central division, it appeared to affirm the team’s decision to remove Zach McAllister from the starting rotation. After the Indians pitched through a 19-inning win on Friday night, including five innings of relief work from starter Trevor Bauer, the club was left scrambling to find a starter for Saturday’s matchup. McAllister lasted just one inning in his first major start since April 2015, walking two batters and giving up a three-run jack in the first frame of the game.
The best remedy for disappointment is tempered expectations, and never is that a more apt reminder than when a player returns from the disabled list. Fortunately for the Nationals, Stephen Strasburg returned to the mound Saturday looking like anything but an injured pitcher, let alone one who hadn’t pitched in almost three weeks.
Over 6 â…” innings and 109 pitches, Strasburg buried any concerns about his midseason comeback in the better half of a no-hitter against the Reds. While his changeup missed the strike zone in all but one at-bat, his curveball and slider command remained sharp, inducing 31 strikes and accounting for two of five strikeouts.
In any other circumstance, pulling a starter of Strasburg’s caliber from a no-hitter would verge on the unthinkable, but Dusty Baker refused to push his starter’s pitch count any further. Although the bullpen failed to polish off Strasburg’s no-no, losing the bid on a Jose Peraza basehit in the eighth inning, the Nationals offense rallied for a six-homer effort, including Danny Espinosa’s second grand slam—both in his career and this series.
Until July 2, 2016, at approximately 5:06 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, Bryan Holaday was a catcher of no particular renown on the Rangers’ roster. At approximately 5:21 p.m., Bryan Holaday metamorphosed into the filthiest knuckleballer of the American League West.
In Eduardo Nunez’s defense, this was approximately the 40th knuckleball he’d seen in nine seasons of major-league play, and his reaction was in keeping with his general approach to knuckleballers:
Defensive Play of the Weekend
Baseball affords some leeway for creativity on a defensive play. It’s not uncommon to see a shortstop pirouette on a double play or a pitcher backhand a comebacker or an outfielder scale the fences like certain red-and-blue-Spandexed superheroes.
It’s a little more unusual to watch a baserunner take the same liberties on the basepaths, however, especially with the tying run on the line. Then again, not everyone is as flexible—or as daring—as Adam Eaton.
What to Watch on Monday
Ah, the rare Monday that doesn’t require you to forfeit day baseball for things like “work” and “responsibilities.” Whether you’re elbow-deep in apple pie or firing up the grill for bacon-wrapped hot dogs, you can also watch Max Scherzer and Junior Guerra duke it out at 11:10 ET.
Scherzer is flirting with a sub-3.00 DRA after tossing 7 â…“ shutout innings against the Mets last week. His 148 strikeouts are the most by any major league pitcher in 2016 thus far, and he’s working on a four-game streak with at least 10 strikeouts recorded per outing. Neither Guerra nor the Brewers are flourishing at the bottom of the National League Central, and with the third-most valuable bullpen backing one of the league’s best starters, it’s unlikely that we’ll see an Angels-like breakthrough anytime soon.
By the time you’re ready to slog through holiday traffic for your local fireworks show, you’ll have two games left to while away the commute. The Orioles and Dodgers will round out the slate at 9:10 ET, and despite the Dodgers' losing Clayton Kershaw to a back injury, watching 19-year-old Julio Urias take on Yovani Gallardo and the Baltimore lineup is a treat in and of itself.
Over in Phoenix, Arizona, the Padres and Diamondbacks will play even more National League West baseball. Luis Perdomo and his 115 cFIP will face Archie Bradley and his 102 cFIP, and the winner will lay claim to fourth place in the division. I’d never tell you which game to choose, but only one of these match-ups will feature a player whose Twitter handle still has the word “teenager” in it (9:10 ET).